Taking Clear and Accurate Notes

Stay focused on your tentative thesis statement or description of purpose and your working outline.
Refer to them t often; revise them as necessary.

Remember when you are taking notes that you are not only accurately recording the ideas presented by the text, but you are thinking about these ideas, asking questions about them, organizing them, connecting them to other ideas, and including these critical responses in your notes.


Bibliographic Notes

Before taking any notes on content, record the bibliographic information. For a book, record author, title, publisher, place of publication, and date published. For an article, the name of the journal, the volume and issue numbers, the year published, and the page references will be necessary.

Include the library call number or web link in case you want to consult the source again. Recording this information now is important as you are more likely to cite materials properly when you have correct and complete reference information. In addition, you have completed a job that you may dislike – compiling your bibliography or list of references – before you write your paper.


Taking Point Form Notes

Your goal should be to take notes in point form, as much as possible. Many novice researchers assume that summarizing or paraphrasing means simply substituting synonyms for a few key terms or every fifth word in a passage. The process is actually much more complex. Proper summarizing and paraphrasing depend on thorough comprehension of material, not on a thesaurus. You must read, underline or highlight to help you understand the content of a passage and decide what is important to your purposes, and then write your notes based on this understanding and on what you have decided is important.

Look at the example.

Passage from Source

An experiment permits the assessment of causal relationships but is often quite unlike the real world. The results of experiments tend to be reliable and valid in the laboratory but may not have any real-world validity. Surveys allows for the assessment of relationships which may be causal, or at least describe elements of reality which are related to each other but do not permit the investigator to draw causal conclusions due to the multiplicity of unknowns contributing to the observations. They are less reliable than experiments in reproducing findings, but somewhat more valid for complex phenomena. Case studies are the intense examination of a single individual or occurrence. They tend to be much less reliable than either the experiment or the observational study due to the different perspectives brought by different observers of the same event.

Point-form Notes


-allow "assessm. of causal rels." and results are reliable and valid in



not  exp not like real world and therf. results may not be valid in real world.

Surveys: :

assessm. of rels that may be causal or describe elements of reality that are related,

may be more valid than exps for :complex phenomena"


cannot draw causal conclusions from them because way too many and varied unknowns contribute to the observs.

and can reproduce findings much less reliably

Case Studies

-permit close scrutiny of one individual or occurrence or sit. etc


much less reliable than both -

diff. observers = diff. perspectives




Before you take notes, you may want want to skim your source first and decide what you need to do with it; summarize it in its entirety, summarize parts of it and skip other parts completely, paraphrase some parts it, quote some or all of it. This decision will help you decide how detailed your notes have to be.

Remember that summarizing means rewriting something in your own words, stating only the key ideas and making it shorter and more concise than the original.

Paraphrasing means giving, in your own words, a precise re-statement of your source's fact and ideas.  It does not necessarily means shortening, and it usualyy follows the structure and  organizational pattern of the original source.

The notetaker in the example took detailed enough notes for a paraphrase if he or she chooses when writing the notes into sentence form. Of course, the writer could also choose to summarize the passage in a sentence or too. The notetaker has also put quotation marks around phrases that are the exact ones used in the original to remind himself or herself to do so when or if the phrases are used in the essay.

At some point you need to turn your point-form notes into sentence form. You may wait to do this when you write your draft, but for your important sources or ideas, it is often better to put your point-form notes into sentence-form when the ideas and/or information is fresh in your mind. You decide, but for our notetaking exercises, we have used sentence not point-form notes.


Summary and Paraphrase

Most of your notes will be of summaries of the text’s information and/or argument or findings with some paraphrases of more specific ideas.

As you summarize or paraphrase, it is essential that you strive for accuracy. Do not confuse what you want research to show with what it does show, and do not make a point out of context. Make sure also that you attribute information properly when you write. Attribution is the proper acknowledgement of sources and actions within the main body of an essay. Your reader will want to know both where an idea or opinion came from (who wrote about it) and who the source of an action was (who did it). For example, when an essay declares that “Ontario Supreme Court Justice Jan Doe reached the decision in the 1990 court case . . . ,” the reader knows the person, the person’s title, and the date of the decision, and is able to assess the reliability of the decision made.


Facts and Figures

Be meticulous when you record facts or figures. Check the data you are recording carefully before you return your source to the library, so that 10,000 pounds of raw sewage doesn’t miraculously become 100,000 pounds in your essay. Facts and figures, incidentally, do not need to be placed within quotation marks. The reader will understand that you have borrowed the data directly, provided that you document the source.


Quote thoughtfully and carefully.  In research papers, quotations are generally used for one of three reasons. Sometimes, the wording in a passage is so precise that it cannot be paraphrased without loss of meaning. Second, the person being quoted may be highly respected in the field and quoting him or her directly will help to bolster the case you are making. Conversely, you may wish to quote an authority in order to dispute an argument made. Finally, the stylistic qualities of the passage may demand comment.

Your own reading experience tells you that quotations must be succinct; furthermore, relying too much on direct quotation instead of integrating summarized ideas can detract from your own analysis.

If you are taking notes directly onto a computer, recording quotations accurately at this time will allow you simply to cut and paste them into the appropriate place in the essay later. But remember to always place quotation marks around direct quotations in your notes and in your essay.

When you are transcribing directly, two notation conventions will be useful.

  • The square bracket [ ] is used to indicate that you have added something to a quotation or changed it ever so slightly in order to make its meaning clearer. For example, if your quotation reads, “Cosmetic companies use this substance in foundation cream,” you might write “this substance [whale blubber]” so that your reader will understand the reference.
  • Ellipsis dots ( . . . ) permit you to indicate that you have omitted a portion of a quoted passage.


When you take notes, guard against quoting an author out of context. Introducing ellipsis dots or quoting only a sentence fragment may distort the meaning of the passage quoted. Be true to the author’s intent; any other approach is dishonest.

Key Terms

While you are reading, be sure to record important terms or words that need clarification. Make sure you understand the terms of the discussion you have entered into. If subsequent reading does not define them clearly, consult a specialized dictionary. Your ability to use these words correctly and to define terms clearly will affect the success of your argument and analysis.

Response and Analysis

Record your insights and questions as you read; your notes will then provide that necessary balance between yourself and the material. Consider how the interpretation offered by the text addresses your topic and it relates to your thesis. Compare and contrast competing arguments between scholars. Assess the author’s use of evidence or the logic of his or her argument. Ask questions like “how,” “why,” and “so what?” Ask yourself how your research supports your thesis or doesn't support it, as the case may be, and how you will have to deal with it in your essay. Remember, you are reading critically, and to do that you must interact with the material.

Exercise One: Notetaking

Exercise Two: Paraphrasing

Exercise Three: Avoiding Plagiarism

Back to Taking Useful Notes